Grief isn’t a disease

She’d lost her husband to a terrible, slow disease and now had just buried her son. I asked her how she was.

“Some days, she said, “I just stand in the middle of my house and scream.”

What a wise woman she was (and fortunately, one who lived in the country, far enough away to keep neighbors from hearing.)  Sometimes our grief needs a voice. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of staffing a grief workshop that gave twenty or so folks a safe place for wailing.

We have a strange way of measuring grief. We talk about someone “doing so well” because they didn’t cry at all during the funeral, as if funerals were places where crying ought not to be done. One of the things I see in my practice is people who feel as if they are doing something wrong because all this time later – all this time being a week, a month, five years – they are still bumping against the terrible and empty places in their souls.

In the therapy world we’re in the midst of quite a debate over whether grief should be classified as a disorder in our diagnostic manual. As if there’s something wrong when we feel depressed and sad and tear up unexpectedly. My mother and I had a tradition of hitting the day after Christmas sale in a particular store. That year Christmas came a full ten months after her death. I thought I was fine to go back to that store the day after that first Christmas after her death.

I walked in and started scanning the sales. And then dashed out as tears suddenly flooded my eyes. I wasn’t depressed. I was grieving.

I see people who feel guilty for their grief, as if they’re somehow not brave enough or strong enough.  I see people who believe that their grief betrays their lack of faith. As a Christian community we need to talk openly about grief, that the hope of resurrection doesn’t erase the pain of the loss, that our tears don’t mark us as “less than.”

The truth is that grief healing is possible but it doesn’t mean what we think it does. It doesn’t mean that things will pick back up to how life used to be before the loss. The loss is real and it’s forever. Healing comes as our lives get bigger so that loss isn’t the only thing taking up space.


Peggy Haymes

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Peggy Haymes is a Licensed Professional Counselor, minister and writer in Winston-Salem, NC. She is the author of several books, including, "Didn't See It Coming: How I faced bouncing off a Buick and other assorted stuff."

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